The Willard Asylum Suitcases



{Photo of suitcase contents by photographer Jon Crispin.}

You guys probably know if you’ve read my book that I am a sucker for anything old or worn, and that the idea of a time capsule is one that excites me to no end (see my recent post on Frida Kahlo’s closet). So you can imagine my delight when I read a recent article & interview between Hunter Oatman-Stanford (who happens to be a friend of mine) and photographer Jon Crispin about Crispin’s photographs of the contents of found suitcases of insane asylum patients.

So here’s the story:  between 1910 and 1970, many patients at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane left suitcases behind when they passed away. In 1995, the asylum closed and employees found hundreds of these suitcases locked in an attic. The Willard staffers contacted the New York State Museum to preserve the hidden cache of luggage as part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Freda Bowker's Willard Suitcase


After learning about the Willard suitcases, Crispin sought the museum’s permission to document the contents of each suitcase (brilliant!!). To help fund the first phase of the project Crispin enlisted the help of others through a Kickstarter campaign.



This coming spring, a selection of Crispin’s photos will accompany the inaugural exhibit at the San Francisco Exploratorium’s new location. {Side note: yes!!}



My friend Hunter sums it up well: “Crispin’s photographs restore a bit of dignity to the individuals who spent their lives within Willard’s walls. Curiously, the identities of these patients are still concealed by the state of New York, denied even to living relatives. Each suitcase offers a glimpse into the life of a unique individual, living in an era when those with mental disorders and disabilities were not only stigmatized but also isolated from society.”




To see more photographs and read the full interview with Jon Crispin, go here. It’s fantastic.


{All photos in this post by Jon Crispin.}

CATEGORIES: Collections | Inspiration